Marketplace encounters troubles with casual workers

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The introduction of new temporary workers at the Marketplace has caused concern among existing employees, some of whom believe the training of these new workers contributes to slower service and longer lines.

Eight nonunion, temporary Marketplace staff members, called “casuals” by Campus Dining, have reached the yearly work limit of 480 hours, according to Associate Vice President for Hospitality Services Amy Muñoz. This limit was established in the contract between Occidental and the Teamsters Union that represents Campus Dining employees, which is open for negotiation every three years. These experienced casuals who have worked since the start of the school year cannot work again until the fall. Their absence is filled by the hiring of new casuals.

Marketplace employees raised questions about employing casuals at a meeting of Campus Dining Staff held by Munoz on March 14.

According to Marketplace employee Mary Vasquez, employees asked why several casuals had to stop working around this time of year instead of working through the school year. They also questioned why casuals could not be hired for a full nine months in order to avoid inefficiencies caused by training new staff members midway through the year.

However, not all employees feel that casuals contribute to the slower service.

Both Marketplace Executive Chef Michael “Meesh” Montygierd and cold kitchen lead Joseph McKee hold that Campus Dining hires experienced casuals who need minimal training to acclimate to the Marketplace. Several of the people they hired are culinary students or have had employment in other culinary jobs.

Other employees feel differently on the matter.

“They don’t have experience,” one Marketplace employee, who requested to remain anonymous, said. “Last week they sent me some guy to help me, and he [didn’t] know how to work. They don’t have experience. I have to explain to him how to do it.”

Casual employee Luis Robles, who has worked in the Marketplace since last semester, agreed with the anonymous employee. He explained that having untrained casuals impedes the work of regular employees.

“We have three people at the grill for a reason,” Robles said. “One is serving, one is cooking and the other is doing quesadillas or something. But the thing is, let’s say, when we have one in training, then I have to do my job, and theirs, to teach them how to do it. So that actually affects the work pace.”

The issue of having to train new casuals during the school year inconveniences the students as well as the employees, according to Marketplace employee Kathy Lauriha.

Lauriha recalled several times when students said they had to leave for class before getting food because the wait was too long. She suggested to students that they contact Campus Dining management with suggestions or requests because they have the most power to influence changes in the Marketplace.

According to Lauriha, the training of casuals itself is not so much an issue as the timing of the training.

“This has been going on for years, and it does not make sense. Give them 200 more hours, if that is what it is going to take,” Lauriha said. “If [480] hours gets them from late-August to mid-February, then a couple more hundred, and they could have their summer off, and then they could come back.”

Another one of the employees, who requested to remain anonymous, thought that the casuals are not as invested in their work as full-time employees are.

“I think it is more important they hire full-time employees,” the anonymous employee said. “I don’t agree with the casual. I do not know why they don’t hire them full-time, or nine-months, or for 24 hours [per week].”

According to Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein, the hiring of casuals rather than full-time employees has to do with the constant fluctuation of Marketplace operations.

“There is a financial aspect regarding casual employees, however there is a financial aspect to decision making in all employee categories,” Himmelstein said via email. “The workload in Campus Dining is cyclical and that is the most important driver in staffing decisions.”

According to Muñoz, the casuals that Campus Dining hires are essential to address fluctuating demand for its services. Casuals play a critical role in working during busy periods in the academic year and allow management to fill planned and unplanned absences of regular Marketplace employees. They also help Campus Dining when large events need to be catered outside of the regular, daily routine.

The casuals’ yearly limit of hours, however, is not something that can be easily changed. The local Teamsters Union, which represents full-time and part-time Campus Dining staff, negotiated a contract with the college that specifically limits casuals’ hours, according to Muñoz.

“According to the union contract, which is renegotiated every three years, the maximum number of hours that a casual staff person can work in a position that is a union position is 480,” Muñoz said.

According to Director of Human Resources Richard Ledwin, most positions within Campus Dining and Facilities Management departments are subject to the union contract. Therefore, although casuals working in the Marketplace are nonunion workers, they are bound by the work limit specified by the union contract.

If a casual wishes to spread their 480 hours across the entire 33-week school year, they can only work up to 14.5 hours per week. Muñoz says that is the root of the problem: Some casuals work as many as three full days (24 hours) per week.

“The problem is that the type of employee that we want oftentimes is not willing to work just 15 hours a week because they are looking for more,” Muñoz said. “And if we don’t give them more hours, they will go find a job that gives them more hours somewhere else.”

The union contract will not be open for renegotiation until the summer of 2015. At that point, Campus Dining employees can work through their union representatives to see if they can amend the clause about casuals and increase the hour limit, according to Muñoz.

“I am pleased with the professionalism and cordiality we share with the union leadership, which allows us to work well together when issues arise,” Ledwin said via email. “There is mutual respect, even when we disagree.”